It will be the kid's thirteenth birthday on Monday, by which point he will be away for a week at some sort of subaquatic summer camp, so he's celebrating now, it being the weekend. We've picked up his friend Tommy, and the two of them will spend the day doing kid stuff, eating pizza, and frequently addressing each other as either dude or bro'. The kid stuff is mostly beyond me, it bearing no resemblance to anything I would have done at that age. It involves iPads, memes, and YouTube celebrities - which are people who post amateur videos of themselves talking about Pokémon cards online. I don't really understand this generation, but it's probably no different to my parents' generation failing to understand mine.
Andrea expressed some concern about the present which Tommy gave our boy for his birthday, hoping it didn't seem too weird or lacking in thought. The present is a stick, one so large you might justifiably refer to it as a staff. Tommy found it on the land at the back of his house, stripped away all the bark, then sanded and treated it with oil; and it will no doubt come in handy should Junior ever encounter a surly giant whilst crossing a mediaeval brook.
We said not to worry. At Christmas the boy asked for a fly swatter and a broom. He asked for a broom presumably because I'd stopped him taking our broom into his room with him on the grounds of it being a broom rather than a toy. I wouldn't have minded had he been using it to sweep some of the crap from his floor, but it was serving as an armature by which to idly hit and swipe at remote objects whilst playing games on his iPad, or possibly just watching complete strangers discuss Pokémon cards. This hitting or rhythmically tapping at things seems to be one of his tics. I put my foot down with the broom when he somehow managed to smash the frosted glass shade of the ceiling light in his room.
'How did it happen?' I asked with near infinite patience.
'I have no clue,' he dutifully reported with typical excess of gravity, apparently having missed the point of that whole story about George Washington and the cherry tree.
I suppose the positive thing to take from all this is that the virtual world of iPads and games and YouTube has left him in a much less fraught relationship with material possessions than most kids of my own generation. I suppose it's a good thing. I have a suspicion that it actually isn't, but I can't quite put my finger on why.
Anyway, it's five in the afternoon, so the Texas heat has slackened off a little and we're taking them swimming. Tommy has a tiny hand-held waterproof camera the size of an asthma inhaler and he is making a short film.
'We're going to the pool,' he announces to his audience from the rear seat of our car.
'We're going to the Country Club,' Junior corrects him, quite unnecessarily seeing as the pool is located at the Country Club and that's why we're going there.
Byron - the boy's father - is a member of the Country Club, and so we are granted access by association. Country Clubs seem to be a relatively common thing over here, generally places in which Americans at the upper end of the economic scale hang out, swim in the pool, play golf, get drunk at the bar, smoke cigars and talk about money. I suspect you probably have to know the right people in order to be nominated for membership, specifically a better class of person - as I've overheard at least one overfinanced plastic surgery addict put it. Accordingly it's mostly us white folks, and I can't quite shake the feeling that any moment I will be rumbled as a Communist and escorted from the premises.
Bess and I find seats in the shade, and the boys dive into the pool. We've signed some book or other, so we have a right to be here, and a waiter asks if we require drinks. We say no, because it will all go on Byron's tab, which somehow doesn't seem entirely fair. Neither of us wish to appear like freeloaders.
We watch the boys and eavesdrop on the conversation of San Antonio's elite, the people from an area unofficially known as the bubble in reference to how little interaction they have with the rest of reality. They talk about money, trucks, and the prestige of certain schools. The funny thing is that these people really do consider themselves an upper echelon, a better class of person; but being from England I have encountered yer actual upper classes, and this bunch are really just regular assholes with far too much money and values based on never having to ask or to apologise for anything. The other funny thing is that they just love me as soon as they hear the accent, presuming we'll have things in common because I grew up in Downton Abbey, and the bubble is really the same kind of deal but with Mexican gardeners. I've also had people asking me if I make my own fish and chips, as though it's some sort of ancestral tradition like the Māoris with their tattoos. So I tend to keep my mouth closed because it's less exhausting.
The boys take it in turns to dive from the diving board, alternating with some other kids, one of whom embellishes each leap with spectacularly ornate somersaults. Our team sticks to diving, swimming, then out of the pool and onto the board again, over and over; until Tommy breaks the pattern to hand Bess his camera.
'Do you think it's okay?'
She casts a dubious look at the tiny slot in which one inserts the SIM card - or whatever that thing is. The cover is open and the camera won't turn off no matter how often the button is depressed. Also it feels quite hot in the hand.
'They're supposed to be waterproof, aren't they?' I ask.
'Why is it so hot?'
I imagine a battery shorting, overheating, leading to an explosion which removes the Country Club from the map of San Antonio, but logically I know this can't happen. If the thing is waterproof, then it really should be fine.
'Leave it with me,' Bess suggests, and the diving resumes. 'Andrea will go crazy if this thing is broken.'
'How much was it?'
'I don't know - couple of hundred dollars?'
We sigh, because there's nothing to be done. The boys switch to table football at the side of the pool, and we listen to and identify a succession of hits of the eighties - Madonna, the Eurythmics, Haircut 100, and others. They're all English records too, which strikes me as particularly weird, and I wonder if this generation will grow up hating these artists as much as I hated Herman's Hermits and Freddie & the Dreamers. We briefly discuss what cult religion Madonna is currently subscribed to, because we can't remember.
Another half hour passes and we go to Florio's for pizza, and the boys spend the rest of the evening doing kid stuff, eating the aforementioned pizza, and frequently addressing each other as either dude or bro'.
The camera turns out to be fine, and Tommy uploads a minute long edited clip of himself and Junior swimming to YouTube.
We're going to the Country Club, our boy announces, and my wife shudders at how privileged he sounds. The words slide out of his mouth as though setting some drooling serf right about the correct order in which cutlery is to be laid out on a table - not even superior, just delivering a correction from a position of implicit authority.
I shrug, because that's how he always sounds to me. I guess I've just got used to it, and it's not really his fault.